May 28, 2023

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Maintaining Kansas’ Flagship Status

The state of Kansas is losing far too many of its outstanding high school graduates to other states.

Likewise, Kansas University is losing an embarrassing share of these students to KSU and other smaller Kansas schools.

KU administrators, alumni and friends enjoy referring to the University of Kansas as Kansas’ Flagship institution. They also are quick to point out KU’s membership in the prestigious AAU.

If indeed KU is a top state-aided university, why doesn’t it attract, and hold, more of the state’s outstanding high school students?

The Gannett newspaper company, which includes a number of Kansas papers, recently asked Kansas high school principals, counselors, teachers and advisors to nominate one student from their respective schools who, in their opinion, presented the highest and most promising future. Factors to be considered included ATC scores, GPA, involvement and leadership experience and two short essays they were to write. One to tell the story of the last day that changed their lives and the other to write the headline they envision 25 years from now and the steps they’d take to make those headlines a reality.

One hundred twenty students were nominated for the high honor with 40 selected as members of the State Academic Team.  The remaining 80 were named to the Honorable Mention team.

Of the 40 Kansas State Academic Team members, nine have plans to attend Kansas State University and three say they will enroll at KU. Eight of the remaining in-state members will be enrolling at smaller Kansas institutions. The remaining 20 all-stars plan to attend out-of-state schools, including Texas Tech, Notre Dame, Penn State, Iowa State, Nebraska, Oklahoma State, Boston, Duke, Vanderbilt, Yale, Northwestern, Amherst and Colorado School of Mines.

Why didn’t more of these highly talented and highly recruited students select KU?

  • Is KU not thought of as highly prestigious or influential?  Will a degree from KU not open as many doors?
  • Was KU too difficult, too costly, too big or did their parents think KU was too liberal or not enough “pro American?”
  • Were living conditions and lifestyles better at other schools?
  • Could it be Kansas high school advisors are not as enthusiastic or supportive in recommending KU?
  • Do other schools offer courses not available at KU?
  • Do other schools offer more attractive and generous scholarships?
  • Or, could it be a case of many high schoolers wanting to get away from home, getting away from Kansas?

Perhaps other out-of-state schools are much more effective in their recruiting and sales job. Does the KU in-state image of being “Snob Hill” turn off both high schoolers and parents as well as the belief KU officials seem to be stressing equity and diversity rather than excellence and achievement?

There probably are many other reasons other schools may be beating KU, but it should be of particular concern that more of the Gannett Kansas all-stars tend to select KSU over KU. This has been a trend over recent years.

Similarly, the Kansas City Star and Kansas City Royals organizations invited faculty and staff members at high schools in the greater Kansas City area to nominate students to be selected as Scholar-Athletes for 2022  Among the 100-plus recognized for this honor were three planning to attend KU and eight headed to KSU.  Hopefully, either or both KU and KSU will eventually land a higher percentage of those Scholar-Athletes classified as “undecided” in their choice.

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Recent news stories have told of the millions and millions of dollars which are being spent, and will be spent in the near future, for new buildings and programs on Mt. Oread.  Buildings and facilities are important, but what about the excellence and recognition of the faculty?

The primary job of a university is to educate, stimulate and inspire.  Added dollars to pay KU’s best teachers and researchers and to attract current and future all-star teachers/researchers would likely result in attracting greater numbers of all-star students.

Apparently, senior KU officials and KU Endowment officials believe better, more convenient retail businesses and perhaps entertainment venues and maybe housing facilities are needed closer to the campus to attract faculty and maybe students. Millions will be spent to develop such a project on KU Endowment property.

There are no easy, simple solutions to reigniting the energy, excitement and enthusiasm of past years on Mt. Oread, in both the faculty and student communities. But something must be done to jump start the excitement and successes of past years.

At a time when there is growing public discussion relative to the importance or even the necessity of a college education, competition for excellent students and faculty is going to become even more intense.

KU officials, alumni, students, Regents and others interested in the welfare of the University, as well as the welfare and future of Kansas, must be more alert and effective in building KU into a better, stronger and more influential institution.